(First posted November 29, 2019)
NB: This is a magnificient contribution to Indian historiography. Rahul Sagar and his collaborators deserve the thanks of the Indian public and indeed of all those interested in an honest exploration of the past. DS
Starting in the early nineteenth century, ambitious Indians began flocking to newly-founded schools and colleges offering instruction in modern languages and sciences. Among the habits they acquired was reverence for contemporary British periodicals such as Athenaeum, The Quarterly Review, The Saturday Review, The Contemporary Review, The Fortnightly Review, The National Review, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, and Nineteenth Century. Not unreasonably, they came to view these periodicals as exemplars of public debate and deliberation.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta: Once upon a time there was another public, another India
As the century progressed, these increasingly urbane Indians ached to discuss subjects
closer to home. They answered this need by founding local counterparts to these British periodicals. A vibrant public sphere now took shape as legions of newly-minted graduates contributed and subscribed to these English-language periodicals.
The most notable of these periodicals included Bengal Magazine, Haris Chandra’s Magazine, Mookerjee’s Magazine, The Indian Magazine, Allahabad Review, The Madras Review, The Dawn, and The Quarterly Journal of the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha. At the end of the century came that magnificent trio – The Hindustan Review, The Indian Review, and The Modern Review – that dominated public life for half a century. In their wake followed dozens of periodicals such as East and West, Triveni, and Welfare, whose influence far outstripped their circulation.
It is impossible to overestimate the importance of these periodicals. Transported around the country by rail, they attracted and cultivated a wide readership. By compelling writers and readers to think more broadly, they midwived modern India. This was not all. As these periodicals were typically published on a monthly basis, they devoted themselves not to reporting news, which would be stale by the time the periodical reached the subscriber, but to essays on the leading questions of the day. In so doing, they compelled statesmen and representatives to contend with ideas and arguments. Finally, by allowing diverse view-points to be developed and debated, they not only reflected but also stimulated India’s distinctive pluralism. No one who reads these periodicals can fail to see that there have always been multiple, often conflicting, ideas of India.
After 1947, these periodicals underwent mass extinction. Readers, having become citizens, now hungered for the news of the day. This demand was better met by radio and newspapers whose proprietors had the financial and technological means to reach vast audiences daily. That these periodicals passed away should not be regretted, for they were fitted to a particular age. What is lamentable, however, is that they have been all but forgotten.
Ramachandra Guha and Pratap Bhanu Mehta aside, practically no public intellectual references them today. The otherwise sophisticated Indian reader does not even know of their existence, much less their contents, which continue to be valuable and relevant. Browse the gallery below to learn more about these periodicals. To search their indexes, proceed to the following section or click here